On your custom trip to Peru, you’ll no doubt notice that in Cusco and the Sacred Valley, there are three casual eateries that you can find on almost every block: Pollerías, Pizzerias, and Chifas. In the first two parts of this series, we discussed Pollerías and Chifas. In this article, we’ll discuss pizza in Peru!
There are literally thousands of pizzerias in Peru, sometimes several to a block. Pizza in Peru is typically thin-crusted with a variety of toppings, some Peruvian, some not. But one thing is definitely true: without Peru, pizza as we know it would not exist! Why? Because, Tomatoes.
That’s right, one of pizza’s three main ingredients is originally a Peruvian fruit. It looks like a tomato, smells like a tomato, and tastes like one, too, but it’s as tiny as a blueberry! In fact the Solanum pimpinellifolium, or simply, “pimp” is the wild ancestor of all of the tomatoes we eat today. Pimp and its cousins grow in the northern part of Peru as well as in Cusco and the Sacred Valley. The pimp tomatoes, though tiny, are extremely hardy and drought-resistant: modern-day tomatoes owe their adaptability to the tough genes of these early species. All modern-day tomatoes are descended from this wild Andean “tomatillo.”
So Peru does, in a sense, come honestly by its pizza, or at least the tomatoes thereon. But as we know, pizza as a meal originated in Italy. Why then has pizza become so popular in Peru? Its popularity has exploded since the exponential growth of tourism: pizza is, after all, the ubiquitous international food. It can be eaten anywhere; it hosts a variety of ingredients, toppings, and presentations; and it’s fun and easy to order when you don’t know what to have for dinner or don’t feel like cooking. Also, in my opinion, people enjoy the “crudeness” of eating with their hands, at least on occasion: it reminds us of our caveman ancestors, whose lives, while not problem-free, were certainly simpler in many ways than our own!
What variations of pizza might you find in Peru? According to Mamma Tomato,a popular pizza restaurant in Lima, the three most popular pizzas amongst Peruvians are 1- The Americana (topped with ham and cheese), 2- the Hawaiana (pineapple and ham) and 3- the Margherita pizza (tomatoes, basil, and cheese). In Cusco, pizza is served with creamy garlic mayonnaise. While this is a departure from North American ideas of pizza toppings, I can attest to its yumminess. Also, in Peru, many if not most pizzas are baked in wood fire ovens, for that toasted/smoky essence many of us favor.
A few years ago, at a Best Pizza contest in the town of Rimini, Italy, where they really know their pizza, Antonio Bencivenga, a Peruvian-Italian business owner, presented his “Passione del Peru” pizza and it took first prize! This was a thin crust pizza topped with black olives, mozzarella, lettuce, Peruvian potatoes, and salsa a la huancaina, a typical Andean sauce made with ají amarillo (Peruvian yellow peppers) and queso fresco (Andean fresh cheese)
Some great pizza places in Cusco are Chez Maggy, Pizzeria Marengo Cusco, and Pizzeria Trattoria Casa Grande. In Lima, try Mamma Lola’s, Spizza, and if you’re a fan of the ultra-thin crust, try Morelia Pizza a la Parrilla.
As for ordering: everyone understands the word “pizza.” Some typical toppings are jamón (ham), salchicha (sausage), chorizo (spicy sausage) albahaca (basil), champiñones (mushrooms), piña (pineapple), ajo (garlic), and aceituna (olives). Sizes include personal, grande (large) and familiar (family-size)
So no worries…on your custom trip to Peru, if you want to have a pizza night, Peru has you covered! Don’t forget to order a Cusqueña beer for the full experience ☺